Thursday, July 4, 2024

[Paleontology • 2024] Gaiasia jennyae • Giant stem Tetrapod was Apex Predator in Gondwanan late Palaeozoic Ice Age


Gaiasia jennyae
Marsicano, Pardo, Smith, Mancuso, Gaetano & Mocke, 2024

Current hypotheses of early tetrapod evolution posit close ecological and biogeographic ties to the extensive coal-producing wetlands of the Carboniferous palaeoequator with rapid replacement of archaic tetrapod groups by relatives of modern amniotes and lissamphibians in the late Carboniferous (about 307 million years ago). These hypotheses draw on a tetrapod fossil record that is almost entirely restricted to palaeoequatorial Pangea (Laurussia). Here we describe a new giant stem tetrapod, Gaiasia jennyae, from high-palaeolatitude (about 55° S) early Permian-aged (about 280 million years ago) deposits in Namibia that challenges this scenario. Gaiasia is represented by several large, semi-articulated skeletons characterized by a weakly ossified skull with a loosely articulated palate dominated by a broad diamond-shaped parasphenoid, a posteriorly projecting occiput, and enlarged, interlocking dentary and coronoid fangs. Phylogenetic analysis resolves Gaiasia within the tetrapod stem group as the sister taxon of the Carboniferous Colosteidae from Euramerica. Gaiasia is larger than all previously described digited stem tetrapods and provides evidence that continental tetrapods were well established in the cold-temperate latitudes of Gondwana during the final phases of the Carboniferous–Permian deglaciation. This points to a more global distribution of continental tetrapods during the Carboniferous–Permian transition and indicates that previous hypotheses of global tetrapod faunal turnover and dispersal at this time must be reconsidered.

Claudia A. Marsicano, Jason D. Pardo, Roger M. H. Smith, Adriana C. Mancuso, Leandro C. Gaetano  and Helke Mocke. 2024. Giant stem Tetrapod was Apex Predator in Gondwanan late Palaeozoic ice age. Nature.  DOI: 10.1038/s41586-024-07572-0